If a baseball season is a long-distance race, the nonwaiver trade deadline is its stretch-drive pit stop, a chance for the leaders and their closest pursuers to swap out tires and take on fuel.
Or so the Twins have heard.
The Twins frequently have sat out the annual July 31 makeover, choosing to stay the course with their own players, supplementing with their own minor leaguers. The Twins have made a handful of late-July swaps under General Manager Terry Ryan, but in most cases, they were the team selling off coveted players to contenders. Only twice in the past decade have the Twins made beat-the-deadline maneuvers to upgrade their roster, and both cases — acquiring Orlando Cabrera in 2009 and Matt Capps in 2010 — came when Bill Smith, not Ryan, served as GM.
That could change this week. With the Twins almost certain to occupy a playoff spot on deadline day for the first time since 2008, Ryan sounds more determined than ever to find solutions to the team’s weaknesses before Friday’s 3 p.m. deadline.
“There are a lot of things we’re looking at, and the possibilities are out there,” Ryan said during his weekly Sunday radio interview. “There’s a chance we might be able to do a few things.”
Ryan never publicly discusses potential targets, but he has conceded in the past week that he would like to add depth to the bullpen and find an everyday shortstop. “[Our relievers] carried us for two months, but we’ve struggled here a little bit. We’ve got to find a way to patch that,” Ryan said.
As for the infield, Ryan made it clear that he would prefer one of the three shortstops on the current roster — Eduardo Escobar, Eduardo Nunez or Danny Santana — to seize the job, but it hasn’t happened yet. The Twins are believed to be considering acquiring a shortstop, and Ryan hinted that “the revolving door at short has been difficult for us. We’d be very receptive” to a solution.
So will the Twins make a deadline move?
“I would expect so,” Ryan said.
Now he has got to figure out what that deal will be. Fortunately, there are plenty of willing partners and a decent number of options on the market. The Twins have been in talks with the Padres, Fox Sports reported over the weekend, and that makes sense: San Diego has Joaquin Benoit, a longtime reliever and former Tigers closer.
Benoit turned 38 this week, is owed another $2.8 million on his $8 million contract this season, and would earn another $8 million if his team exercises its option for 2016. But the Dominican Republic native is having a terrific season, posting a 2.27 ERA in 43⅔ innings. Benoit’s 8.0 strikeouts-per-nine-inning average is better than any Twins pitcher except Glen Perkins, and he has held righthanded batters to a .122 average this season with only one home run.
Benoit’s teammate Shawn Kelley isn’t quite as effective, but the 31-year-old holds righthanders to a .200 average and owns a 3.09 ERA in 35 innings, with 39 strikeouts. And Brandon Maurer has a 2.64 ERA in 47 ⅔ innings, though at only 25, the Padres might be less willing to let him go.
Other relievers rumored to be available include Boston’s Junichi Tazawa, who has a 2.74 ERA and holds righthanders to a .213 average; Colorado’s John Axford, who was having a bounce-back year before giving up a walk-off homer to the Cubs’ Kris Bryant on Monday night; and former Tampa Bay closer Jake McGee, a lefty, whose numbers are terrific — 1.46 ERA, .164 batting average against righthanders and 12.4 strikeouts per nine innings — but whose $3.5 million contract makes him more expensive than most setup relievers.
At shortstop, the options are thinner. Oakland has been said to be offering utilityman Ben Zobrist to potential suitors, but it’s not clear if it would be a fit for the Twins, since he is 34 and hasn’t played shortstop this season. Still, he has 229 games of experience at short, the position he came to the majors at, and a career .354 on-base percentage.
The Twins might be able to interest teams in some of their young players. Power hitters Oswaldo Arcia and Kennys Vargas, for instance, are in the minors and have no clear role on the major league team, so could be made available.
Contracts and statistics won’t be the only consideration in a trade, Ryan said.
“Chemistry is a huge piece. I don’t want to bring anybody in here that’s going to send us in the wrong direction chemistry-wise,” he said during his radio interview. “I don’t care how good he is, we don’t want to have that.”